COMMENT : Venezuela: revolution in slow motion — Lal Khan
In spite of all the purges Chavez has carried out, the threat of a military coup by the elite generals who have enriched themselves is a possibility
With the inability of Hugo Chavez to take oath for another presidential term on January 10, speculations in the media are rife not just about the prospects of Chavez’s recovery from the cancer he is afflicted with, but also about the fate of the revolutionary process that has been ongoing in Venezuela for more than a decade now. Although little is known about his prognosis after the fourth surgery, it seems that he is in a fragile condition and may not survive for very long. However, there is semi-concealed euphoria amongst the oligarchy in Venezuela and the strategists of world capitalism and the imperialists. The Venezuelan courts have allowed the delay of his inauguration and Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who was nominated by Chavez as his successor, is the acting president during these uncertain days.
The elections held on October 7, 2012 gave Chavez victory with 55 percent of the vote as compared to the 44 percent for the joint opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles. In the weeks and months leading up to the presidential elections, the oligarchy and the international bourgeois media had deluded themselves that they could actually defeat Chavez and bring back the rightwing rule after a gap of 14 years since he won the elections in 1998. Their expectations of securing a victory against Chavez were not entirely far-fetched. After all those years of Bolivarian government, the revolution has not been completed and capitalism remains the economic system prevailing in Venezuela. This has given rise to hyperinflation, power cuts with prolonged blackouts due to the debilitating infrastructure, an escalating crime rate and insecurity. Due to the corruption, inefficiency and incompetence of the ruling bureaucracy there is increasing frustration amongst the advanced layers of workers and youth.
But there were certain factors and measures taken in the election year that shattered the dreams and hopes of the oligarchy and rightwing opposition who were generously financed and supported by US imperialism. In this year, the government spent heavily to consolidate the social conquests of the revolution from which millions had benefited. Apart from free health and education there were substantial measures initiated in the housing sector.
In the last two years, 350,000 houses were built and distributed by communal councils. These houses were given to those who were displaced by floods, landslides and other natural disasters. Amongst the almost one and a half million people out of a total population of about 27 million who benefited from this scheme were also the residents of the shanty towns and those who were forced to live in congested houses with their families. Another 380,000 houses are planned to be built this year. There were also substantial grants given to the elderly, single parents and those who are out of work.
The masses were profoundly aware that if the opposition came to power all these gains would be reversed and their benefits abolished. The other factor that led to the victory of Chavez was that in spite of the sleek start of the campaign, the looming threat of a defeat forced the leadership of the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) to re-launch the campaign on a class and ideological basis against capitalism with a bold programme of revolutionary socialism. This initiated a mass mobilisation with a revolutionary mood that played a decisive role in the victory of Chavez.
The patterns of development where there have been a continuum of reforms while capitalist relations persist, giving rise to unevenness, have created new contradictions. On the one hand, the living standards of the masses have been raised considerably, while on the other, there has been very little investment in the productive infrastructure and capitalists have in many ways tried to sabotage the economy with massive cash flows out of Venezuela, hoarding of basic foodstuffs, etc. The excessive spending in this election year has made the economy very delicate. The high oil revenues are lagging behind the massive imports from the world market. With the over-valuation of the Bolivar currency, the trade deficit is rising. The real budget deficit has reached almost 20 percent of GDP.
There have been several attempts by the counter-revolution to reverse this process. In 2002, there was a military coup that overthrew Chavez. However, within 48 hours the masses had defeated the coup and Chavez was restored to power in the Miraflores Palace. At that time, the revolution could have been victorious and even peaceful, as the army, police, church and the media had collapsed and were paralysed. The Venezuelan revolution seems to defy the laws of gravity as it has been in motion for more than a decade. This makes it a peculiar revolutionary process that has not achieved its goals even after such a long duration. Although the masses support and admire Chavez, they are equally disgusted by the bureaucracy of the government. In spite of this, there is an astonishing resilience of the masses. They voted in the regional elections with a sympathy vote on December 16 for Chavez’s candidates, who was going for another surgery in Cuba. In 20 out of the 23 governorships, the PSUV candidates returned victorious. Similarly, the opposition had to face a backlash when a massive pro-Chavez rally came out when the right wing used Chavez’s illness to attempt to destabilise the country.
If Chavez departs, there will be an intense power struggle between different factions of the bureaucracy. Although they are now taking the long-term perspective of grinding down and wearing out the revolution over a period of years, the rightwing and counter-revolution may yet launch a frontal attack. In spite of all the purges Chavez has carried out, the threat of a military coup by the elite generals who have enriched themselves is a possibility. But the main efforts of imperialism are to carry out the counter-revolution through the bureaucratic rightwing of the Bolivarian movement. There has been talk for a long time in the media of ‘Chavismo without Chavez’. If Chavez dies and Maduro is elected due to the support of Chavez, the regime will not last for very long and there can be a vicious counter-revolution staged by the brutal bourgeoisie that has had a fright for more than a decade. But the discontent of the masses is finding expression. There is a sharp ideological class polarisation growing in the PSUV. If the Marxists win this struggle in the party and the PSUV completes the expropriation of capitalism, the revolution will move forward and decisively defeat counter-revolution and imperialism.
The writer is the editor of Asian Marxist Review and International Secretary of Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He can be reached at email@example.com